I have been thinking about being true to ourselves. It seems like personal fulfillment is our most cherished value. Contemporary culture stands up and cheers when somebody declares their “authentic self.” It is so American. It speaks of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I wonder if we shouldn’t consider whether to replace the national motto. (In case you forgot, it is “In God We Trust,” a pretty new addition to our national identity—only approved by congress in the 1950s.) Perhaps we should get our new motto from Hamlet: “To thine own self be true.” Unlikely? I’m not so sure. Regardless of Polonius’ true intent in the play, the words have a golden sound to them.
Americans are enthusiastic about shaking off cultural norms and throwing open the gates to self-awareness. I think it’s fair to say it is a pervasive theme in news and entertainment. Nothing invites admiration like proclaiming one’s authentic self. At the moment, the focus is on sexual preference and gender identity—standing ovations and testimonials, anyone? I can’t guess what will be next. Mid-life reinvention seems like a positive trend. Not so sure bout unabashed materialism—I think we’ve already thrown off the stigma there. And then there’s the proud admission of polygamy . . . The point I’m making is, as long as your authentic self doesn’t hurt anyone or infringe on anyone else’s authentic self, you are free to be you and deserve to be left to it. More than that, you are to be applauded. That is the popular mindset.
So, what of it?
Let’s do a brief study in contrast. Read the words of Jesus:
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? (Luke 9:23-25).
If it becomes common knowledge that Jesus’ expects people to deny themselves, I fear His popularity may be in jeopardy. Actually, I think Jesus is starting to be known for who he is, the enemy of self-fulfillment and the leader of a counter cultural movement. Popular culture would like to retain the image of the Savior as “Jesus, meek and mild,” tolerant and encouraging. But a careful reading of His story reveals the truth. He is “Jesus, mean and wild.” He is the God-man who rescues and then says “Go and sin no more”; the wild man who ransacks businesses in a fury; whose message to this dying planet is nothing less than a Kingdom not of this world.
If followers of Jesus get around to taking Him seriously, they can expect to be branded as the enemy just as their Master was. He rejected popular values. He called the faithful to self-sacrifice and self-denial. Consequently, when Pilgrims on The Way take up His cross they can expect to be marginalized in the marketplace and in the halls of learning; to be excluded from public office and public discourse.
Some are already feeling the heat. The message is getting clearer: Christian, prepare to get what is coming to you.